Rebates make solar power a ‘no-brainer’

UPDATE: September 23, 2019 – The day this story was posted SaskPower announced it was halting its net metering program. The program is currently “under review.”

Joe Wecker spent years looking into a solar power system for his organic farm in southern Saskatchewan, but it didn’t make financial sense until a rebate program was introduced by the province.

“If the payback is 10 years you can finance it for 20, and you’re still money ahead. So why wouldn’t guys do it?” Wecker said.

“I’m surprised more people aren’t doing it, especially on the farm. It’s a no-brainer.”

After a 10-year payback period for the system, he expects that power for his seed plant, aeration fans, shop and house will be covered by the power produced by the solar panels installed on his farm.

The only cost he expects to incur after that is a $35 monthly service fee from Sask Power, as long as his systems hold up, which is projected to be 30 years, although the system’s inverters will likely need to be replaced at the 20-year mark.

Wecker said he didn’t want to be involved in the design or construction of the solar system so he used EVOLVsolar.

Michael Daciw from EVOLVsolar said the company was formed four years ago by a group of people who had been in the oil and gas industry.

“Since then we’ve done projects in three (prairie) provinces, we’ve done over a megawatt worth of work and everything ranging from farms to business to homes. Right now we’re predominantly focused on farms.”

He said the smallest system the company installs is a five-kilowatt system for a small home, while the typical farm system is around 20 kilowatts that will produce around 24,000 kilowatts per year.

The system EVOLVsolar installed on Wecker’s farm is a 95-kilowatt system that will produce about 130,000 kilowatt hours per year.

“It’s a grid tie system. The grid effectively acts like your battery. In the daytime, especially in the summer months, you are going to be exporting a lot of energy and you’re going to be paid the same rate as you’re paying in the form of credits.”

In the summer, owners of solar systems save up credits, which they then use in the winter.

The solar systems are sized to produce the same amount of energy as farms use on a yearly basis.

Daciw said the rebates in Saskatchewan usually cap out at $20,000, but because Wecker has four meters on his property, he was able to access about $60,000 in rebates.

“It’s the best time to go solar in Saskatchewan. In other provinces, say Manitoba and Ontario, they used to offer a higher rate for the solar energy they sold to the grid, but once a lot of people adopted solar, they then dropped the rate,” Daciw said.

“But in Saskatchewan right now you have that really high rate because solar is relatively new in Saskatchewan.”

Each province has different rules but they all allow customers to sell back power. There are just different ways in which they do this.

“The nice thing about Saskatchewan is you sell back power the same rate as you pay. But in other provinces, it’s not like that, and with the regulations you actually lock that in for 10 years, which is really valuable,” Daciw said.

He said after the 10 years are up, customers in Saskatchewan can renew for another 10 years.

Daciw said the payback period in Saskatchewan is actually nine years, in Alberta it’s around 14 to 15 years, and in Manitoba it’s between 20 to 25 years.

“If they get dusty, you just want to sweep them off or wash them off. Our projections include some losses due to snow, but obviously if you’re going to knock the snow off it will help with production in the winter months,” Daciw said.

To increase the efficiency of Wecker’s solar energy system, EVOLVsolar installed bifacial solar modules, which also uses solar energy from the bottom side of the panel.

“The bifacial modules actually has glass in the back, so when the sun hits the snow and it bounces back up it’s going to hit that solar cell and actually produce energy,” Daciw said.

“You’re going to produce a lot more energy, especially in the winter months when there is something bright underneath like snow.”

Daciw said for farm owners who plan on sticking around for a few decades, solar energy systems will save them money in the long run, especially with the Saskatchewan rebate program.

There is currently a backlog in Saskatchewan of customers waiting for their solar systems to be connected to the grid, which indicates the program is popular.

The meters at Wecker’s farm were installed a few weeks ago and the farm’s energy use is now more in line with its overall philosophy and business model, which is based on using renewable resources.

“It’s what we believe and power consumption is part of that. If you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk once and awhile,” Wecker said.

“Our customers will know when they get our clean grain, all the power we use on the farm is offset by solar panels.”

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